15 Now MSP launched in August 2014 after a group of airport workers fighting for union recognition saw the first victories for $15 in the cities of Sea-Tac and Seattle. Sea-Tac airport and service industry workers fought for the first $15 minimum wage, passed in 2013 by a ballot initiative. The Sea-Tac and Seattle victories inspired 15 Now chapters springing up across the country, open to all community members and workers who want to fight for a $15/hour minimum wage. In Minnesota, the campaign for 15 Now began with a dozen labor unions, including the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA), the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), and airport workers at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.
Although major airlines such as Delta make hundreds of millions each year on operations at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, low-wage subcontractors have become a tenet of airline industries. Many airport workers need to work two or even three jobs to make ends meet. Over the last 15 years, wages at the airport have fallen 45% as airlines outsource work to subcontractors who relentlessly drive down wages in an effort to increase profits.
At MSP, 15 Now collected thousands of petition signatures and organized with workers to build pressure on the Metropolitan Airport Commission (the MAC) to demand a $15 minimum wage for every airport employee. In the midst of the campaign, Delta fired long time baggage handler and 15 Now leader Kip Hedges for stating that many Delta workers make less than $15/hour. A massive re-hire campaign ignited tensions at the airport and elevated the demand for $15/hour, and on December 5, 2014, 15 Now MN, several labor unions and airport workers held a massive protest, with hundreds of airport workers and community supporters demanding $15/hour and union rights for all workers.
Rising labor unrest against the major airlines passing jobs to subcontractors in an effort to dismantle what were once reliable union jobs is the main reason that, in February 2015, Governor Dayton appointed two rank and file airport workers to the MAC, including low-wage Air Serv worker Ibrahim Mohamed. At Mohamed’s inauguration ceremony, Dayton said, “The fact that he was making $12.50 an hour a few years ago, according to reports, and they reduced that to minimum wage is just disgraceful.”
In March 2015, Governor Dayton acknowledged the MAC had “failed airport workers.” Kip Hedges responded by saying, “Raising these low-wage workers up to $15 would be a stepping stone for future union organizing and strengthen the confidence of all workers at MSP to fight for $15/hour and union rights. We stand united with SEIU, Teamsters, the IAM, the MN AFL-CIO and airport workers behind the demand for $15/hour.” Under pressure, the MAC voted in May 2015 to raise the airport minimum wage to $1 above the statewide increase. With confidence after the victory that airport workers said was ultimately “not enough”, many vowed to continue fighting for $15 and union rights.